telecenters for rural development
Department of Library and Information Science, University of the Punjab,
Purpose – The paper aims to: assess the situation of rural population in Pakistan and information
facilities available to them including telecommunications, computers and public libraries; document
the community information initiatives in terms of objectives, institutional framework, staff, services,
use, ﬁnance, technology and lessons learned; understand challenges and opportunities regarding the
establishment of multipurpose community telecenters (MCTs) in rural areas of Pakistan; and to
propose a model for the establishment of MCTs in Pakistan in terms of policy formulation, planning,
management, funding, building, equipment, technology, services, target groups, marketing and
Design/methodology/approach – The study is based on literature review and interviews of
persons involved in activities of providing information to the rural community in Pakistan selected
from the telecommunications sector, libraries and national and local non-governmental organizations.
Findings – The paper highlights the role of MCTs in rural development. It assesses the situation of
the rural population in Pakistan and information facilities available to them including
telecommunications, computers and public libraries. The paper documents existing community
information initiatives in terms of objectives, institutional framework, staff, services, use, ﬁnance,
technology and lessons learned. It presents challenges and opportunities regarding MCTs in rural
areas of Pakistan. A model is proposed for the establishment of MCTs in Pakistan in terms of policy
formulation, planning, management, funding, building, equipment, technology, services, target
groups, marketing and sustainability. The paper also discusses how MCTs can be an alternative to
rural public libraries.
Originality/value – The paper presents a model for the establishment of MCTs in Pakistan in terms
of policy formulation, planning, management, funding, building, equipment, technology, services,
target groups, marketing and sustainability.
Keywords Information centres, Telecommunications, Rural areas, Public libraries, Pakistan
Paper type Research paper
Pakistan, the second largest country in South Asia, covers around 800,000 km and is
one of the ten most populous countries in the world with a population base of 149
million, of which approximately 61 percent lives in rural areas. The economy of
Pakistan is primarily driven by agriculture, which accounts for the largest share of
gross domestic product (GDP), contributing about 24 percent to the economy and
employing 48 percent of the total work force. Pakistan is one of the world’s largest
producers of raw cotton, which serves as the input to drive the textile industry – the
mainstay of industrial activity in Pakistan. Pakistan’s per capita income per annum is
about US$492. There are currently over 50,000 villages in Pakistan, which have a
population between 100 and 7,000 inhabitants. Currently, nearly one-third of the
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population can be classiﬁed as poor – a proportion that rises in rural areas (Pakistan.
Ministry of Finance, 2003). Pakistan’s literacy rate is 48 percent and in rural areas it is
only 37 percent. The country’s rural areas lack basic facilities such as proper education,
health care, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, better communication facilities,
better employment opportunities, etc.
The new information and communication technologies (ICTs) have had a great
impact on decision-making processes, markets, the media, local empowerment, the
targeting of marginal groups and employment. ICTs have a huge potential to play their
role for social and economic development of rural population. These technologies can
be used for poverty alleviation in rural areas. They can help create a more democratic
environment, which is a pre-requisite to social development. ICTs have allowed the
creation of a global marketplace where it is possible to access a wide variety of
information, goods and services. Development-oriented ICT applications include
e-government (to improve public services), e-business, e-learning, and e-health.
Since the urban population already enjoys the fruits of ICTs, the rural dwellers also
need these facilities to bridge the vast information gap between the two communities.
Owing to unavailability of infrastructure and some other problems people living in
rural areas cannot afford to have these facilities. Establishment of community
telecenters is a way to enable rural community to use modern inventions for their
development. It is a powerful concept to bring “state of the market” technologies to
traditionally neglected “back of the market” communities. Telecenters are a means to
expand equitably the telecommunications network and give rural communities the
chance to adopt ICTs to their beneﬁt, strengthen social ties within the community and
economic ties with the outside world.
The ﬁrst telecenter for this purpose was established in the mid-1980s in a rural
farming community in Sweden to provide services, training and jobs to the local
community through computers and modern telecommunications equipment. The use
of telecenters has spread rapidly and examples can be found around the world. They
are being implemented in different forms by governments, development institutions,
non-proﬁt organizations and entrepreneurs, and are modiﬁed based on local
opportunities and conditions. While the success of telecenter projects has been
mixed, it has been noted that in communities with active telecenters there is a visible
and identiﬁable change in the skills and capacities of the people and institutions.
Various forms of telecenters include basic telecenters, telecenter franchises, civic
telecenters, phone shops and cyber community centers. For the last ten years the
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Unesco have been introducing
multipurpose community telecenters (MCTs) in a number of countries as pilot projects.
An MCT can be deﬁned as a technology hub that allows a community to establish many
programs and services which provide social, economic and information technology (IT)
support. MCTs are structures that encourage and support communities to manage their
own development through access to appropriate facilities, resources, training and
services. “Multi-purpose” means that a telecenter is able to provide different user groups
within a community, with a range of services relating to different domains (from
education/training to business, from health to local governance), and it does so by
offering several technologies. “Community” refers both to local community ownership
and community access through the telecenter. MCTs rely on such resources as public
and community libraries and local mass media in order to facilitate access to information
services and to improve the dialogue between citizens and local/national institutions.
Emphasizing the important role of ICTs in the development of humankind the
World Summit on the Information Society (2003) recommended that “governments,
and other stakeholders, should establish sustainable multi-purpose community public
access points, providing affordable or free-of-charge access for their citizens to the
various communication resources, notably the internet. These access points should, to
the extent possible, have sufﬁcient capacity to provide assistance to users, in libraries,
educational institutions, public administrations, post ofﬁces or other public places,
with special emphasis on rural and underserved areas”.
The two-thirds of Pakistan’s population living in rural areas is far behind the rest of
the world in social and economic development. Although the government tried hard to
build an infrastructure to provide ICT facilities to the country’s rural community,
because of other prohibitive factors everyone in this community will not be able to take
beneﬁt from the advantages of these technologies. In this grave situation the
establishment of MCTs in rural areas may be a viable option. These MCTs, once
established in rural areas, will provide a range of services focused on the needs of rural
residents. Farmers will be able to check information on market prices for their
products, read weather forecasts and learn about new agricultural technologies while
other rural residents will be able to access information as needed. In addition, they will
be able to get beneﬁt of telemedicine as well as distance education through MCTs and
they can easily communicate with their relatives and other contacts.
To ascertain the role and beneﬁts that MCTs could bring to Pakistan a study was
conducted to achieve the following objectives:
(1) To assess the situation of the rural population in Pakistan and information
facilities available to them, including telecommunications, computers and
(2) To document the community information initiatives in terms of objectives,
institutional framework, staff, services, use, ﬁnance, technology and lessons
(3) To understand challenges and opportunities regarding the establishment of
MCTs in rural areas of Pakistan.
(4) To propose a model for the establishment of MCTs in Pakistan in terms of
policy formulation, planning, management, funding, building, equipment,
technology, services, target groups, marketing and sustainability.
The following methodology was undertaken for situation analysis of Pakistan and
.The related literature was collected through the internet, personal contacts and
other sources and reviewed.
.Unstructured interviews were conducted of the selected persons involved in
activities of providing information to the rural community in Pakistan. The
persons were selected from various sectors such as telecommunications, libraries
and national and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Interviews were
conducted using e-mails, internet chatting and telephone.
ICTs in Pakistan
During recent years Pakistan has been quick to realize the importance of ICTs in the
development process. The government and the people believe that these technologies
have tremendous potential for countries like Pakistan. There is a general trend towards
ICT education among the young generation. The government is giving incentives for
development and export of software and the telecommunications infrastructure is
being upgraded to meet the high demand for bandwidth and allied data
Pakistan has made steady progress in expanding telecommunication networks and
services in recent years. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) was
established in 1996 to regulate the telecommunication industry in Pakistan,
including matters related to protecting consumers’ interest, licensing regime, tariff
regulation, type approval of equipment and interconnection arrangements. The PTA
has in its jurisdiction internet service providers (ISPs), data operators, cellular phone
companies, card pay phones, cable networks and other services falling in the ambit of
telecommunication sector. Key features of the present telecommunication
infrastructure in Pakistan include the following.
Fixed line telephone
Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) is the incumbent service
provider for provision of ﬁxed line telecommunications. Established as public limited
company in 1996, PTCL is 88 percent owned by the Government of Pakistan. It has
shown impressive growth in the past ﬁve years and manages a well-developed
domestic telecommunication infrastructure of over ﬁve million access lines served by
nearly 3,000 exchanges, a nationwide ﬁber-optic backbone over 4,500 km long and
international communications through sub-marine cable and satellite links (Pakistan
Telecommunication Company Limited, 2004). PTCL has installed more than 1.5 million
new telephone lines since June 1997. As a result, teledensity (deﬁned as the number of
operational telephone lines as a percentage of population), at 2.87 percent, has
increased by 6 percent per year. Comparing this ﬁgure to the 10 percent teledensity in
Asia and the 17 percent teledensity globally shows that Pakistan is at the lower end of
the scale. The telecommunication network in Pakistan is almost entirely digital. As a
result of a tariff rebalancing programme initiated by the Government in 1997, the
prices of long distance and international calls have been signiﬁcantly reduced in recent
years. By expanding facilities in the country, PTCL has shown a record ever proﬁt over
Rs23 billion for the ﬁnancial year closing June 2003 (Pakistan Telecommunication
Besides PTCL, there are two organizations created by the government that also
provide access services. One is the National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC),
which by the end of 2002 provided around 72,000 access lines to the government and
defence forces. The other is the Special Communications Organization (SCO), which
operates a network of around 92,000 lines in the more remote northern areas, as part of
a special development program.
Some ﬁve years ago, in order to address the urgency of the shortfall of
telecommunication access in the country, the PTA approved a franchise concept. This
concept allows private wireless local loop (WLL) operators to collaborate with PTCL’s
infrastructure for expansion of the payphone network in the country. As a result PTCL
signed operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts with four interested parties,
namely Telecard, Worldcall, Telips and Pak Datacom. For all four operators no
particular areas were required to be covered. However, a general preference was given
to rural areas and the operators were required to deploy their WLL payphone services
according to the following three tiers: 30 percent of the lines should be deployed in
urban areas; 30 percent in sub-urban areas; and 40 percent in the rural areas. Telecard
only has rolled out 125,000 lines in the country.
Cellular usage is growing strongly after the introduction of the Calling Party Pays
(CPP) regime in the year 2000. Currently, four operators provide service to about three
million cellular subscribers all over the country. Although the number of subscribers
has more than tripled in the past two years yet it shows a penetration rate of around 1.4
percent, one of the lowest in the Asia-Paciﬁc region. The PTA will soon issue cellular
phone licenses to two more operators. According to conservative estimates, the total
number of mobile subscribers will surpass the ﬁxed-line subscribers by the end of
2004. It is also estimated that there is a potential demand of about 25 million cellular
subscriptions by 2018 (Pakistan Ministry of Information Technology IT &
Telecommunication Division, 2003).
According to PTCL sources only 2.4 percent villages have telephone facilities. The
rural teledensity of Pakistan is only 0.77 percent as compared to urban teledensity of
5.76 percent. Mainly due to the fact that providing copper ﬁxed-line services to these
areas can be cumbersome, time consuming and above all is too expensive
(approximately Rs15,000 or US$250 per subscriber). Providing telecommunication in
the rural areas has been a very important item on the PTA’s agenda. PTCL intends to
connect 50 percent of Pakistan’s villages by December 2004 through use of WLL
technology. PTCL has recently issued a tender for commissioning of WLL system for
195,000 customers in rural areas of Pakistan (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority,
According to the Federal Minister for Information Technology the deregulation
policy in the telecommunication sector will have a universal service obligation clause
for all the players in the market. A percentage of their revenues will have to go for the
development of the telecom sector in rural and less lucrative regions of the country. Not
only the PTCL, but also the new entrants will also have to make a contribution towards
this spread of telecommunications in the country. To serve the underdeveloped and
underserved rural areas the Ministry has recently established a universal service fund
that will ensure that the telephone network rollout will be adequately funded. In
November 2003, PTCL announced a massive relief package for its rural customers by
reducing new telephone connection fee from Rs1,850 to Rs500. The PTA has recently
allowed individuals/companies to use mobile phones as public call ofﬁces in rural
areas. Moreover, in a recent statement the PTA stated that they “had directed the
mobile phone operators to formulate their roll out plans for larger coverage of their
services especially in the less afﬂuent and needy areas so that a common man could get
beneﬁt from this facility”.
PCs are rapidly becoming a household item in the big cities of Pakistan. Most
professionals possess a PC either in their workplaces or in their homes. Currently the
number of PCs in Pakistan is believed to be some 700,000 and their number is
increasing at about 100,000 per year. In spite of a drastic fall in the prices of computer
hardware in recent years it is still too expensive for the vast majority of the rural
population in Pakistan due to their low income levels. In rural areas less than 5 percent
of schools have computer laboratories as compared to nearly one-fourth of educational
institutions in urban areas which have their own computer laboratories.
ISPs became operational in the country in 1996. By mid-June 2000 the country had 0.1
million internet subscribers and a coverage in only 29 cities. Today more than 200 ISPs
provide internet access, which is accessible in more than 1,800 cities and towns
(Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited, 2004). The estimated number of
internet users in the country is 3 million. According to recent claims of the PTCL
internet access is available to 95 percent of Pakistan’s population. Low internet access
charges have encouraged internet usage and acceptance by the Pakistani public. To
encourage internet use in some small and remote areas, where it is too expensive to
establish local services, PTCL charges phone calls to connect with ISPs in the nearest
city at local rates instead of long distance rates. This practice has increased the number
of cities and areas connected to the internet.
The last four years have seen a mushrooming of internet cafe
´s all across Pakistan,
in both urban and rural areas. How many internet cafe
´s exist in Pakistan? There are no
central data on this topic because no formal survey was conducted in this regard.
According to rough estimates a large number of people are able to access the internet
using the thousands of cyber cafe
´s which seem to be present in every neighborhood
from large cities to small towns. Cyber cafe
´s and other public internet facilities offer a
very cost-effective and convenient way of accessing the internet to the public, the vast
majority of which cannot afford to have their own individual internet account with an
ISP, because of their low income level which makes owning a computer a luxury.
However, the productive usage of internet in Pakistan is quite limited and it is mostly
used for messaging, chatting, e-mail, entertainment and pornography (90 percent) and
research (10 percent) (Wolcott and Goodman, 2000).
The Government of Pakistan launched the ﬁrst national IT Policy in August 2000.
Features of the policy regarding the role of IT in development cover such aspects as:
.Include a compulsory, modern and up-to-date computer literacy module in the
matriculation curriculum for high schools.
.Launch a scheme for providing low-priced computers and internet connectivity
to universities, colleges and schools through a public-private sector initiative.
.Barriers to the induction of new technologies (e.g. WLL) by the private sector will
be removed to ensure the spread of communications to under-served and
un-served areas of Pakistan.
.Encourage telecommunication companies and carrier network service providers
to develop and upgrade rural telecommunications facilities. The Government is
fully committed to the universal service obligation principle and a mechanism for
provision thereof has been provided in the telecom sector policy.
.A number of international satellite operators have already begun to provide
high-speed internet access. These services should be encouraged to overcome
bandwidth limitations, not only in urban areas but also in the rural and suburban
areas, for basic internet connectivity.
.Develop new ways to use IT to help solve the most pressing problems of human
and economic development/education, health, poverty alleviation, rural
development, and care for the environment.
.Elimination of all import duty on computer equipment and accessories (Pakistan
Ministry of Science & Technology IT and Telecommunications Division, 2000).
Cable television is a growing industry in Pakistan as more and more international
television channels are showing there keen interest to enter Pakistan market. In view of
government media regulations, which are monitored by the Pakistan Electronic Media
Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), most of the existing channels offer digitized and
encrypted signals. About 9 million households have television sets out of which there
are around 2 million cable television subscribers. There were 900 licensed cable
television network operators by 2002. The unbundling of cable television has been
partially done as PTCL provides international transmission access to international
channels to these cable television operators throughout the country.
Public library system
There is no organized public library system in Pakistan. According to a survey
conducted in 1996 there were 302 public libraries mostly located in large cities and
towns. The existing public libraries are under the charge of municipal and social
bodies. The majority of these libraries are in a very deplorable condition and their
holdings are mainly out-of-date ﬁction books. Only a few are properly staffed and one
seldom ﬁnds a qualiﬁed librarian. The services of these libraries are quite limited and
the main sources of income are regular grants from the annual budget of the municipal
body and the subscriptions charged to the public (Haider, 1998). During the 1980s,
4,373 box libraries were established in rural areas but their fate is unclear (Khurshid,
2000). The 1998 National Education Policy provides for the establishment of rural
public libraries up to the union council level, but no practical step has been taken so far.
The literate people in rural areas quench their thirst of information through personal
libraries, private subscription libraries, school/religious school libraries, mosque
libraries and shrine libraries.
Community-based information systems
The concept of MCTs is entirely new in Pakistan. Services provided by a typical MCT
are available separately to a great extent in urban areas and to some extent in rural
areas. For instance, there are internet cafe
´s, public call ofﬁces, pay phone shops, fax
shops and computer training centers all run on commercial basis.
The only examples of community-based information services in rural areas are
three Cyber Community Centers (CCCs) established in 2001. The ﬁrst such CCC in the
country was launched in Gwadar in south-west Balochistan in March 2001, followed by
one in Mithi in south-east Sindh, and Usterzai Payan, Kohat in NWFP. These CCCs
were set up by the Sustainable Development Networking Program (SNDP) of the IUCN
in collaboration with local NGOs (i.e. Baanhn Beli at Mithi, Rural Community
Development Council at Gwadar and Al-Asar Academy at Usterzai Payan, Kohat). The
purpose of these centers was to serve the local community by providing them the
opportunity to access the rich information resources available on the internet (Siochru
and Rashid, 2001). The latest information collected about these three CCCs reveals that
one center (Usterzai Payan, Kohat) is restricted to the internet and other software
training for the students of a community school. The internet facility is not offered to
the general public. However, the other two centers are serving the general public, and
information about them is summarized below.
The objective of setting up these CCCs was to provide access to information and
communication channels that were previously beyond the reach of the poor and
disadvantaged communities resident in remote areas of Pakistan. These CCCs were set
up by national and international NGOs in collaboration with the most prominent local
NGOs. Both centers were opened in computer training centers already working under
local NGOs. The idea of CCCs was initiated by the SDNP, which contacted the local
NGOs for partnership. SDNP provided training in internet skills and web development,
and worked as the ISP.
Both centers have a single technical person each to train users and help them in
surﬁng. In the case of their absence from the center there is no back-up arrangement,
and this fact badly affected the centers. The technical persons at both centers who
started the centers left the job after some time. Now it is difﬁcult for new staff to run the
centers, especially as the new staff have no training from the SDNP.
Both centers were the ﬁrst internet centers in their respective areas. The services
provided at these centers include internet surﬁng, sending e-mails, assisting to write,
send and translate e-mails, and printing e-mails/attached ﬁles. Specialized courses on
the use of internet were offered against payment at both centers. Mostly young people
attended these courses. The centers are open for 12 hours (10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.) for
six days a week. In the beginning at the Mithi center, ten to 12 people used to visit, then
after two to three months the rate of average users reduced to four to ﬁve visitors a day.
At the Gwadar center, on average ten to 15 people, mostly form the young population,
used to visit during early period. However, the number of daily visitors declined with
the passage of time.
Both centers offer internet access at the rate of Rs30 per hour. They also charge for
other services. The average monthly income from the Gwadar center is between
Rs2,500 and Rs3,000. On the other hand average monthly expenditures are around
Rs8,000. Thus the center has been operating under a deﬁcit of Rs5,000 per month
which is too much for an NGO working on a not-for-proﬁt basis. The management of
the NGO is worried about the sustainability of the center. The problem of ﬁnancial
sustainability is the same for the Mithi center. According to one of the staff of the NGO
running the center, they might shut down the center if they do not get immediate
ﬁnancial aid from external sources.
The Gwadar center is connected to the SDNP ISP in Karachi through the Turbat
telephone exchange. The Mithi center is connected to an ISP in Hyderabad. The
connectivity with ISPs in these areas is not reliable. Some of the frequent disconnection
and interruptions were telephone exchange related. This interruption results in
additional telephone calls, which frustrates net-surfers. There is an insuf ﬁcient number of
PCs available at both CCCs (three at Gwadar and one at Mithi) and the machines used for
internet service are quite old. Therefore, there are hardware problems on frequent basis
which result in interruption in the CCCs’ services. Unavailability of hardware/software
maintenance services in these remote areas also causes service break downs.
A number of lessons have been learned with respect to these CCCs:
.There is lack of awareness in rural community about the beneﬁts of using the
internet. The vast majority of CCCs’ visitors come for entertainment purposes
rather than for educational or research work or to gain knowledge. They do
online chatting most of the time. Even the majority of the visitors are not
interested in exchanging e-mail messages. However, there are some individuals
who have gained a lot of information through the internet about their hobbies
.The centers provided job opportunities to computer literate youths, although
these are small in number. However, people found the centers a good source for
.The rates of internet use per hour are too high to be affordable for poor villagers.
.The CCCs failed to provide opportunities for local women to use internet
facilities. It is a common and strong perception among the local population that
the internet is just an entertainment medium and, therefore, it is not wise for
women and children to learn and use it.
.The CCCs have proved successful as a catalyst in improving internet services in
remote areas (by attracting commercial cyber cafe
´s), but commercial cyber cafe
provide services at cheaper rates and pose a serious threat to the sustainability of
.The SDNP model of CCCs is not ﬁnancially sustainable.
Future initiatives of telecenters
The experience of CCCs established by the SDNP has opened up the idea of the use of
such centers in rural development in Pakistan. The Ministry of Information
Technology, with the help of the IUCN, is planning a project for setting up more
community telecenters in rural areas.
The Strategy and Plans Wing of PTCL has also drafted a plan to establish
tele-info-centers in the semi-urban, rural and remote areas of the country. The aim of
this project is to provide “universal access” in rural and remote areas where the
majority of people live. The objectives set for this project include to:
.promote access to basic telephone, internet and IT services;
.test the viability of different ideas, services and community solutions;
.demonstrate sustainability of tele-info centers (based on experience of similar
.evaluate impact of providing access to modern ICTs in rural and remote areas;
.contribute PTCL’s bit in rural community development service;
.enhance participation of private sector;
.help to improve community efﬁciency productivity and business in rural and
remote areas; and
.create a chain of economic activity leading to long-term PTCL projection and
The services proposed for telecenters include national/international PCO facility, fax,
internet, e-mail, voice mail, word processing, document printing, document scanning,
computer hands-on training, photocopying and multi-media. It is proposed that, to
start telecenters, existing telegraph ofﬁce buildings can be used which are already
under the custody of PTCL. The maximum number of telegraph ofﬁces was 444 in
1998, which is reduced to 324 in July 2003.
Another project, which intends to establish a public telecenter in the remote region
of Gilgit in Northern Pakistan, is the Gilgit Internet Service. The project was started in
October 1999. Funded by a grant from the International Development Research Center
(IDRC), International Center for Integrated Mountain Research (ICIMOD) and the
Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South
(COMSATS), the project is entitled “Pilot Project for Providing Internet Services in
Northern Areas of Pakistan”. This project has the objective of establishing internet
connectivity in Northern Pakistan, while investigating the technical, cultural,
organizational and regulatory challenges of providing internet services in this
remote setting. The project focuses on the use of internet services by the local
population, local government, and locally operating non-governmental and
international organizations. There are now over 115 subscribers to the Gilgit
Internet Service, where at the same time, telephone calls remain both unreliable and
The Gilgit Internet Service remains the only initiative in Pakistan providing
connectivity to rural areas of the country. COMSATS, having previous experience
running internet services in six major cities in Pakistan, operates and manages the
internet service in the Gilgit region, while ICIMOD offers project administration
services. Trained local staff operate the VSAT link between the Gilgit Internet Service
and the COMSATS service in Islamabad. The Gilgit Internet Service aims to serve over
1,000 internet users. The local region will beneﬁt from the training services offered by
the soon to be established Public Internet Center at Gilgit. The Public Internet Center
will also offer internet facilities to local businesses, and low-cost access to individuals
who cannot afford to purchase computers for home or ofﬁce use. It is expected that the
Gilgit Internet Service will contribute an enabling tool to enhance the educational,
training, skills building and socioeconomic activities in the local region.
The wider goal of this pilot project includes investigating and developing skills
required for establishing a sustainable public internet service in regions with poor
quality or non-existent telecommunications infrastructure. It is hoped that the lessons
learned from the Gilgit Internet Service will provide valuable tools for adaptation in
other remote regions of the world. Despite its successful operation, the Gilgit Internet
Service still faces the challenges of overcoming telecommunications infrastructure and
electricity related problems.
As users and services continue to increase, it is expected that the internet service
should be able to obtain a sustainable operational base. COMSATS is pursuing SCO,
the local telecommunication company, to provide dial up access to the whole northern
areas including Skardu, etc., to connect to the Gilgit POP Internet Service under this
Challenges and opportunities for MCTs in rural areas of Pakistan
The establishment of MCTs in rural areas of Pakistan will have to face the following
.Literacy is the lowest in rural areas. Two-thirds of the villagers cannot even
write their name in any language. Women who are almost half of the rural
population are only 10 percent literate.
.The majority of the rural community in Pakistan is not aware of the services and
beneﬁts of new ICTs regarding their needs. The internet is perceived in rural
areas as an entertainment medium and youngsters mostly use it to see
pornographic sites. Therefore, the elders do not like their women or children to
have internet access.
.The cost of setting up the telecommunication infrastructure in rural areas is
prohibitively high for operators in this ﬁeld. They can earn more proﬁt by
investing less in densely populated urban areas. Hence, providing
telecommunication services to villages is at their least priority.
.Pakistan has now a good level of access to the internet. However, the internet is
English-dependent, and in Pakistan, the level of capability in using the English
language is sometimes alarming. To be able to use the internet, particularly in
rural areas where 99 percent of the population do not know basic English, much
more content in national and local languages is needed.
.An unreliable supply of electric power is another hindrance in the provision of
ICT-based services. For instance, in Gwadar, electricity is available for only ten
hours a day. According to the sources of WAPDA, the largest power supply
company in Pakistan, only 58 percent villages have the facility of electricity.
.Various experiments of MCTs carried out in the world show that this idea is not
commercially attractive and there are little chances of their sustainability
without external aid.
.Volunteers working for rural development are not aware of the use of ICTs in
.There is a lack of political will for the provision of information services. Local
governments with a low budget have to provide other basic needs such as
education, health, electricity, clean drinking water, etc. Information provision is
one of their lowest priorities.
In spite of all challenges mentioned above the following opportunities are available for
initiating the idea of MCTs in Pakistan:
.The majority of the poor population of Pakistan lives in villages (39 percent of
the rural population as compared to 22 percent of the urban population are below
the poverty line). They cannot pay for a telephone facility or PCs. Even if some of
them can afford to buy PCs, the maintenance, supplying parts, and training
people how to use them are more difﬁcult in the remote areas. In these
circumstances the only way to help the rural population to provide access to ICT
is the opening of MCTs.
.Awareness at government as well as national and international NGO levels is
seen now. The government promotes ICTs through various initiatives such as
e-commerce, e-government, IT education, deregulation of telecommunication, etc.
The Ministry of Information Technology is already planning to set up such
centers in rural areas. International organizations like ITU, UNDP and Unesco
are ready to provide ﬁnancial/technical support for this purpose.
.There are examples of indigenous web resources providing information services
to villagers. The examples are TelMedPak (for tele-medicine) and Pakissan (to
.There is a great potential of providing distance education through MCTs in rural
areas. Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU), the ﬁrst Open University in Asia,
has established over 1,400 study centers throughout the country. 58 percent of its
students belong to rural area. The opening of Virtual University is another step
in the way of providing distance education through ICTs in Pakistan.
.The new local government system suits the provision of such services at local
level. Powers of many federal and provincial departments have been shifted to
local governments at district, tehsil and union council levels. There are over 6,000
union councils in the country (a union council represents four or ﬁve small
villages). Now it is the duty of union councils to open libraries and reading rooms
for the public. A department to promote IT is to be set up in each district in
accordance with the new local government ordinance. The new Nazims and Naib
Nazims (elected administrators of local government (Pakistan. National
Reconstruction Bureau, 2001) are educated having at least secondary school
certiﬁcate. They can understand comparatively easily the need of providing
ICT-based services in their respective areas.
.The government-owned PTCL has announced subsidy on telecommunication
services in rural areas. It is already working on the provision of WLL technology
as an alternative to copper wire infrastructure in rural areas.
Model for the establishment of MCTs in rural areas of Pakistan
In light of the above discussion it is inevitable to set up MCTs in Pakistan to play their
effective role in economic and social development of rural population. A model for the
establishment of such centers is proposed here. Some international studies and
guidebooks on which the theoretical framework of this model is based include Colle
and Roman (2003), Community Technology Centers’ Network (2003), Latchem and
Walker (2001), Qvortrup (2001), and Unesco (2003).
Although the key implementers of most of the development policies are local bodies yet
the job of policy making is in the hands of the Federal Government. The Federal
Ministry of Information Technology should take initiative to set up MCTs in rural
areas. It may form a task force for this purpose with representatives from the Ministry
of Education, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Pakistan Library
Association, telecommunication operators in private sector, and national and
international NGOs. Technical experts from the ﬁeld of IT may also be included in
this task force.
It is proposed that the pilot project should be initiated ﬁrst. After a year or two MCTs
can be set up on full scale. The national level task force may invite concerned
government departments and user groups to express their views regarding
applications and service development. It may organize a meeting with
representatives of collaborating organizations to deﬁne their needs for services and
capacity development, as well as their roles and contributions to the project.
Community needs must be assessed before starting a center. Key target groups and
types of services to be provided should be decided at planning stage.
Management and control
Experiments with MCTs in other developing countries reveal that the commercial or
franchised model has more potential of self-sustainability. The national task force may
invite franchisees (national or local) to open MCTs. As these centers have less ﬁnancial
attraction government departments may provide subsidy and other help in the
.Local government can provide building on subsidized rent.
.Local government can provide special funds for library material that has no
.National task forces can provide training, technical support and coordination
among various organizations for ﬁnancial aid/subsidy.
.International and national NGOs can provide equipment, as it is the major
expenditure of a center in the beginning.
.Telecommunication companies can charge subsidized rates for telephone, fax
and internet services.
.The electricity supply company can provide electricity at a subsidized cost.
.Local schools can help in marketing MCT’s services.
To safeguard the rights and beneﬁts of the community it is recommended that an
advisory committee should be formed for each telecenter. This committee should have
representatives from various local government departments, local political workers,
local NGOs and users of the center.
To set up MCTs in rural areas the franchisees should be helped in providing start-up
costs fully or partially by public funding or international donor support. The provision
of services from various government departments on concession can attract
franchisees. Some of the MCTs’ services (such as phone, fax, internet, e-mail, etc.)
have potential for cost recovery. The local government should provide a regular budget
for library material.
Building and equipment
An MCT may be set up in local government ofﬁce, school, community center, post
ofﬁce, or any private house or shop. The minimum building requirement of a center is
two rooms, one for internet, phone, fax and photocopier and the other for training
purposes. The second room may also be used for meetings or library reading room.
The equipment initially needed for a center may include three to four PCs, a laser
printer, a photocopier, a UPS, a scanner, a CD-writer, a laminator, a binder, a telephone
set, a facsimile, a television, a video cassette player and an audio cassette player.
Software requirements include ofﬁce applications (word processing, spreadsheets,
databases, desktop publishing, presentations), internet browser, anti-virus programs,
educational software, recreational software, networking software, web page design
and multimedia software.
WLL may be the best option to provide connectivity to the proposed MCTs in rural
areas. In remote and inaccessible areas where WLL is not available satellite
communication may be an appropriate and practical solution, but it is not economical.
The extra cost should have to be borne by the government. PTCL may provide internet
access at the local call charges with no multi-metering.
Services to offer
Regarding services to be offered at an MCT, the development of the center can be
divided into two phases depending on its success and needs of the community. Basic
services which should be offered during the ﬁrst phase may include: telephone; sending
and receiving fax messages; access to computers; printing; scanning; photocopying;
access to internet; sending, receiving and translating e-mail messages; providing
meeting space for small groups; access to government forms and information; word
processing; training in computer use; binding; showing videos; laminating; lending
library materials and providing reading room. Advanced services to be offered in the
second phase may include developing local databases; designing and maintaining web
pages; supporting distance education; tourist information; tele-medicine; tele-trading;
graphic design; video or still camera hire; employment agency; and online banking.
Targeted user groups
According to the community needs following groups may be targeted as users of an
.local government functionaries;
.teachers and students;
.small business entrepreneur;
.sports clubs; and
Promotion and marketing
Telecenter services may be promoted through local advisory committee, local
government functionaries, posters, leaﬂets and brochures. Traditional communication
systems within the rural community may be used to promote the center at the outset.
These include community meetings, opinion leaders, religious institutions and the
Sustainability is the most important issue in the development of MCTs in rural areas.
Networking of telecenters can help in sustainability. Such cooperation may facilitate
access to technical support and assistance; common training sessions; and the
opportunity to plan for collaborative ventures and projects. To be sustainable, MCTs
require to offer services and content that meet the needs of the community. There is
little relevant information and knowledge available electronically in a language and
format rural people in Pakistan can understand and use. Relevant content needs to be
developed and adapted to user-friendly interfaces. The need for cross-sectoral
public/private partnership, involving also local actors has already been highlighted.
MCTs as an alternative to rural public libraries
As mentioned above an effective public library system is non-existent in Pakistan’s
rural areas. People fulﬁll their information needs through informal sources. The
government is always busy in fulﬁlling other basic needs and fully ignores setting up
public libraries. The establishment of self-sustained MCTs can be an alternative to
such libraries. As proposed in the model, if MCTs acquire some books, subscribe to
some newspapers and magazines, and provide some area for study, these can serve the
purpose of a public library. This new form of rural public library will fulﬁll the
information needs of rural dwellers not only through traditional sources (books,
newspapers, magazines, etc.), but also through modern electronic sources (audio-visual
material, CD-ROM, databases, internet, etc.). The library function of MCTs is not
ﬁnancially sustainable. For this purpose local governments can provide some support
to MCTs instead of setting up independent public libraries. This support can be in the
form of building and a regular grant for books and magazines.
In spite of poor economic conditions, Pakistan has achieved, in recent years, a
signiﬁcant advancement in its telecommunication sector. The number of subscribers to
ﬁxed-line and cellular phone has increased and there are computer and internet users in
large numbers. These facilities concentrate on big cities and rural areas are still far
behind in getting the beneﬁts associated with such facilities. There is a dire need to set
up community-based facilities for providing information and communication
technologies to rural dwellers. Bearing in mind the successes and failures of some
international and national initiatives, a ﬁnancially sustainable model for the
establishment of such multipurpose community telecenters can be ﬁrst pilot tested
and then implemented in Pakistan. With some support from local government these
MCTs can also serve the purpose of modern rural public libraries and bring them on a
level of their urban counterparts.
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(Khalid Mahmood is a Lecturer on the Department of Library and Information Science,
University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. He is a proliﬁc writer and has published some books
and various research articles in national and international journals. His area of special interest is
the use of information and communication technologies in libraries. He can be contacted at: